Tag Archives: beach

Happy New Year – Let’s Go Outside & Explore!

We kicked off 2022 by heading outside to Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores for a bike ride around Lake Shelby, which is 750 acres across. As we drove through the park looking for a good place to begin our adventure, we noted that its infrastructure had to be created by Gulf oil spill and hurricane relief because it was clear that a LOT of money had been poured into making this park look awesome. There were long boardwalks across the water and the main highway so parkgoers could visit the beach, a newly designed playground, and a lodge/meeting space that we didn’t even see (but read about). It’s an immense park and we were excited to explore.

The Lake Shelby portion of Gulf State Park

As Keith readied all 4 of our bikes for the trail, I monitored the boys at an excellent playground that blended in well to the overall aesthetic of the park. Both boys loved the challenging ropes course, the variety of swings and things to climb, and the fact that they could run free for a bit to get excess energy out.

Elliot is getting more confident at biking, but he had some trouble getting used to the bumpiness of the boardwalk and the narrow lane he had to stay in while we passed people going the opposite direction. Just when he was finally comfortable with it, the boardwalk ended and he tried to bank a hard left like Henry easily accomplished in front of him. Turns out, he was NOT ready for that yet and fell into the swamp! Keith and I rushed to quickly get him out, and he was fine except for some scratches from the prickly grass.

After surviving the fall into the swamp!

The paved trail around the lake made for an excellent ride, although each boy managed an epic wipeout when they accidentally rode off the trail, resulting in scrapes and hurt egos. Elliot recovered better than Henry, but all of us finished the 7+ mile trail ride and lived to tell the tale.

Some kind of water structure that Grandpop would like.
Almost done!

We found a random seafood restaurant in town for lunch and managed to hold the boys off from getting cheap souvenirs from a place that had both a pirate ship and giant shark (on alternate sides of the building, naturally) to lure them in.

After siesta time at the rental, we drove to the beach at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge for sunset because I wanted to both end my year and start the next one with sunsets at the beach. A storm was brewing so we couldn’t swim (riptides galore and waves in the Gulf like it was trying to be the Atlantic Ocean), but we played in the soft white sand (Elliot made sand angels since it felt like the consistency of snow) and with a football.

Honestly, the best part of my first day of 2022 was throwing a Nerf football around with my boys in a silly game of monkey in the middle and the ridiculous giggling that ensued. I can’t adequately describe it, but I know that these are the moments I want to flourish this year – the ones of complete joy in the moment.

Elliot said it best when he summed up our beach-time:

We couldn’t stop the fun-ness!

What the fort?!

Outside Tacky Jacks 2

We spent the day in and around Fort Morgan. Ate a fantastic breakfast at Tacky Jacks 2, where our waitress never let my coffee mug be empty and the biscuits were light and fluffy. Henry wants to go back and eat more of their French toast. It was exactly what we needed to start our day.

The fog made the view cloudy until the sun peaked out, and then we had our first sightings of oil rigs in the bay/gulf which was totally weird and made us thankful that Florida currently has a ban on them in our waters.

For the rest of the morning we alternately swam in the unheated & chilly pool and hung out in the nice & hot hot tub. And around noon we had some special guests arrive to stay with us through Sunday – Oma & Opa!

We had planned to bring our bikes on the Mobile Ferry to Dauphin Island, but thanks to a fog advisory no pedestrians were being admitted on the boat (biking around the entirety of the Mobile Bay to return home was not enticing at all). So we changed our plans and visited Fort Morgan instead.

Entering the fort.
Entry tunnel to Fort Morgan

It was an awesome experience. First, we went inside its small museum full of items used at or worn by soldiers at the fort during its time of operation, which was from 1813 as Fort Bowyer until 1947. The kids liked seeing real cannonballs and rifles, and it was nice to get some background on a place we hadn’t heard about before visiting this area.

Fort Morgan (& its partner, Fort Gaines, on the other side of the entry point to the Mobile Bay) helped protect the area from forces during the War of 1812, the Civil War (although the “invaders” here were the Union troops), World War I, and World War II. I admit to being not knowledgeable about any kind of military history so I did my best to pay this place the respect its owed and learn what I could (while chasing my kids around).

After being turned over to the state of Alabama as a historical park in 1947 (and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960), the fort has been open to the public for visits. It currently is on the list of the “nation’s 10 most endangered battle sites” by the Civil War Preservation Trust because of shore erosion and crumbling infrastructure.

The fort itself consisted of a series of tunnels, including one you had to walk through to enter. Coming out of the entry tunnel you find yourself in the dry moat with a small drainage creek; this was where soldiers could easily move from one side of the fort to another under cover of walls on both sides. Once inside the fort, we were fascinated by the tunnels made of bricks, covered with the sediments of time. The boys loved climbing giant-sized stairs to the roof where they could see the beaches and try to escape from their parents (which was kind of horrifying, given that the railings weren’t huge and the roof was sloped with rivets in places.

Because Fort Morgan was utilized in so many American wars, it had a couple of cool features that allowed our imagination to run wild. First up – the Battery Duportail, added in 1898-1899 – which created two 12-inch breech loading rifles that served as “Disappearing Guns” in battle. They would rise up out of the ground, fire their explosives, and then drop back down for reloading. Pretty genius move to protect the soldiers from enemy fire.

Battery Duportail

For World War II, concerns about U-boats infiltrating and barricading the Mobile Bay caused the construction of a circular concrete gun mount (two were actually built, but only one exists today). This allowed firing on a wider area. The fort was primarily used as an ordnance depot for ships during the war.

Turning back time to the terrible Indian Removal Act of 1830, Fort Morgan had a hand in assisting with the removal of 3,500 Muskogee Creek members from the interior of Alabama as a stopping point on their way to Arkansas and then further west. 93 members of the Muskogee Nation died at Fort Morgan from disease and exposer to its extreme temperatures. As I walked around the fort after learning this, I quickly recognized that the fort was not capable of housing that number of people and was horrified with myself that I’d never deeply thought about the places Native Americans were forced to stay as the government forced them off their land. I would have liked to see more about this at Fort Morgan both in its museum and in the fort itself.

The historic site did a great job depicting the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 through panels utilizing colors (red & blue) to identify boat positions and attacking formations for the fleets, as well as riveting text and artwork. Admiral Farragut led the Union forces to victory, first in the water and then took the fort via a siege. Part of the problem for the Union ships were the torpedos (think land mines, not like torpedos today) blocking entry to the bay. The only ship lost in the battle – The Tecumsah – sank within a minute of being hit. After some time passed likely rendering the torpedoes ineffective, it was reported that Admiral Farragut shouted, “Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!” His action to push the ships through the confusion of battle (& in the hopes that the torpedoes couldn’t explode) decisively turned the battle in favor of the Union forces.

Battery Thomas – built 1898 with mounted rapid fire guns to protect the defensive mine field located across the entrance to Mobile Bay

After we finished our fort tour, we played on the beach until the park closed, finishing the last day of 2021 at one of our happy places – the Gulf of Mexico.

Thankful we don’t have offshore drilling in Florida!
Goodbye 2021!

P.S. – Since Keith’s parents were with us, Keith & I went out to dinner at a total dive called the Flying Harpoon, where the beer was ice cold, the seafood fried to perfection, and the artwork lining all portions of the walls and ceiling – questionable. We recommend it.

Art at the Flying Harpoon
(zoom in for shenanigans)

Tia Vanesa Is Our Favorite

Shortly after my parents’ visit, one of our best friends (& Henry’s Godmother) came to see us. She brought Henry his birthday present: a NASA astronaut suit from the Air and Space Museum. It definitely solidifies his coolness status as the coolest one in our family. 

Vanesa may be the only person I know who was stoked to be a soccer mom for the day; she even wore her official soccer mom outfit (I told her that next time she needs a visor.) After the game, she bravely painted outside with the Hen. What started out with painting on paper quickly morphed into painting each other’s faces and arms. Luckily for her, I only buy ultra washable paint so it came off very easily. I don’t know who had more fun (it was me, watching them and relishing the fact that I didn’t have to be painted!) 

We took a picnic to the beach to watch the sunset later that day, and followed it up with Amish-made ice cream. We loved having her visit our crazy, and can’t wait for her to come back again soon (or else we will invade her D.C. apartment – all four of us!)

Pass-a-Grille Beach

A few weeks ago we realized that Elliot had never really been to the beach. Sure, he’d dipped his toes into the Gulf following his first trip to Frenchy’s, but that was it. And since the beach is one of our happy places we decided to go catch the sunset one Sunday night down at Pass-a-Grille. 
We don’t usually go to the beach during the day. We’re pale, red-headed creatures who burn easily and have family members continuously getting skin cancer removed – it’s just not a great place for us during the day. But the hour or so before sunset at the beach is a magical place. It’s not so hot, the sand appears to glow, and there’s a relaxed atmosphere to it all. 

We chose to go to Pass-a-Grille since I had never been there, and Keith said it’s really beautiful. Sold. We were going. It’s a little south of St. Pete Beach, in a neighborhood full of beautifully designed beach homes. There was plenty of parking on a Sunday night and little traffic – important things when traveling with toddler and baby dictators. 

Henry loved digging in the sand and building castles. He also has an epic shell collection thanks to Keith scouring the sand looking for new ones. I think Henry could spend forever at the beach without getting bored, but again, his super white skin coupled with his fair hair prevents this. Elliot was his chill self and relaxed on a blanket for a while. He also liked (my) walking while wearing him in his Baby K’tan wrap. He could see the surf, shore birds, and people, and hear all the sounds of the beach. I think he loved it, too. We’re definitely making the beach at least a monthly priority, because why not…it’s a perfect, happy place.

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation (Part 3) – SGI Playground of the Week

This week’s Playground of the Week is located on St. George Island at the foot of its lighthouse at the beach. We rode our bikes along the island-wide paved trail every night to the playground so Henry could get the last of his energy out. There were swings, slides, games, balance beams, and things to climb – with the sea breeze keeping things cool and the bugs (mostly) away. It was never crowded, had public bathrooms, and was a perfect spot to end our days.    
One evening we road bikes to the foot of the bridge connecting the island to the mainland to watch the sunset. It’s weird to watch the sunset over the mainland when we are so used to watching it set over the Gulf where we live. Weird, but still beautiful and worth the extra ride. I loved how we could visit anywhere on the island by bike (a lot of people used golf carts – not as cool as biking!), and we definitely took advantage of that.


What We Did On Our Summer Vacation (Part 2) – St. George Island

We rented a lovely little two bedroom vacation house on St. George Island for our relaxing week of family vacationing. We breakfasted together on its screened in porch, spent our mornings visiting the area, siesta-ed/napped in the afternoons, and finished our days with an evening bike ride and playground date. It was pretty perfect. 
Here are some of the activities we did:

The Beach! Hanging out at the beach was our primary activity on SGI – the beach is one of he best in the country. We splashed in the water, picked out shells to bring home, threw our frisbee around, and dug in the sand. Our house was two blocks from the beach access, making it an easy walk to the shore. 

Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park. On the cloudiest day, we biked about 16 miles round trip to SGI State Park, which is located at the eastern end of the island. The ride to the park was great, and the park itself is a grand preservation area with the oldest stand of slash pines on a barrier island as well as giant sand dunes. We didn’t beach it up here, because the Hen was set on playing at the campground’s playground. It was nicely shaded and a great break. The campground and its bathrooms looked excellent and clean; we may have to camp next time we visit! Our way home from the park was the hardest bike ride I’ve ever attempted. The wind from the encroaching storm made pedaling difficult. We had to take multiple water breaks, and each time we did neither of us wanted to hop back on our bikes, but we forced ourselves to do it. I have never been so excited to see condos in my life (to block the wind gusts). We were soaked, and our legs were bonked when we got back to the house, but it was totally worth it. 

Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. Located in Eastpoint, the education and research center has sea life tanks, beautiful boardwalk trails, views of the bay, and Henry’s favorite – microscopes where you can look at shells and exoskeletons close up. He could have spent all morning looking through the lens, but he also loved playing with the stuffed animals and watching the fish. The center is free and open Tuesday through Saturday 9am – 4 pm. 

City of Apalachicola. We loved this small town full of antique shops, pirate/fishing gear, and Southern charm. Well, maybe not so much charm when we were told on multiple occasions that we were not from Florida since we lived in the Tampa Bay Area (but being from Jacksonville was closer to living in the Sunshine State). We found a couple of lovely Spanish tiles to decorate our home (place of decoration to be determined). Henry’s favorite part of town was the Battery Park playground, of course. In the shadow of the bridge overlooking the bay, it’s set back from the road and featured a variety of playground equipment for Henry to climb all over. My favorite thing there was this oversized chair, perfect for taking silly photos. 

Apalachicola Maritime Museum. Keith was really excited to visit this museum, which provides information about the history of oyster fishing and boating in the bay area. It also offers courses in boat making (we didn’t do this) and a variety of affordable boat tours of the area. We took the Sunset Cruise and lucked out that we were the only ones on the boat besides the driver, Richard. Richard has lived his entire life in Apalachicola and knows things you couldn’t read in a history book like who owned what building on the river and what family business they were up to. It was a fascinating tour of the town before we headed out to the bay to see the sunset. We ate our dinner of Piggly Wiggly sandwiches on the boat, and then Henry co-drove the boat! It was his absolute favorite thing about vacation – he still talks about driving the boat under the bridge in the bay. 


DC Adventures (Mostly in Food)

Looking back at the pictures my friends and I actually took over our DC trip, most of them involved gathering around a table and enjoying delicious food and drinks drinks and even better conversation. We started off the weekend right with sangria (super sweet) and Jazz in the Garden. We sprawled in the shadow of weird sculptures with hundreds of others. Since we didn’t bring food, we walked to Hill Country Barbecue Market for melt-in-your-mouth brisket and so many sides. 

The next day we split a pizza and hummus appetizer at Pi Pizza, which totally hit the spot. For dinner, we met up with my fav aunt, Aunt Jane, at Ted’s Bulletin for drinks, tasty food including homemade pop tarts, and adult (spiked) milkshakes for dessert. Mine was key lime pie flavored with coconut rum, and it was definitely refreshing. 

 Sunday morning we headed over to Georgetown for brunch at Farmers Fishers Bakers. It was pricey, but the variety of breakfast and lunch foods was excellent and the cinnamon rolls and creme brûlée grapefruit were to die for. 

 On our last full day we ate lunch at the Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian (http://www.mitsitamcafe.com/content/menus.asp), where it was difficult to pick which foods to eat because they all looked amazing. I ended up getting a variety of foods and not being able to finish any of them, but they tasted as good as they looked. We had drinks that night at Ambar, our first visit to a Balkan restaurant. I’m pretty sure I liked the American Indian restaurant the best, with Ted’s Bulletin a close second. 

We even saw a few tourist sites – the Natural History Museum and the National Building Museum. We saw all the highlights of Natural History in one morning! That’s how my two year old rolls. Actually, he ran through each exhibit, pausing for a bit at the animal and dinosaur skeletons, long enough to pet a caterpillar and a hissing cockroach, and took time to admire the beauty of the Hope diamond (oh wait, that was the adults). We wanted to check out the beach at the National Building Museum, but the wait was more than two hours on a Monday morning, probably because it was 107 degrees outside (not really but it was hot)! Henry had a blast playing with toys in the gift shop (he got one small fire truck for the plane ride home) and climbing up and down the stairs. The building’s design was beautiful with its rows and columns of arches and spacious interior. We will have to see the exhibits next time we visit DC, especially if Henry still likes building and destroying things.